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Forget Points

I found this post on Jamie Goode’s blog interesting, on two counts:

1. It’s not often that I have to look up a French appellation to see where it is.

2. Jamie’s first sentence seems to ring a bell:

Forget points. Forget shopping-list tasting notes. Forget wine tasting as a ‘competition’ to see which wine is best.

Is Jamie a fan of Wine in Context? Will he be submitting his favourite wine in context moments of 2010?

Amusing or Dishonest?

I have a habit of just shrugging things off. But perhaps I should get more worked up about things sometimes? As it is, I found this “interpretation” of one of my tasting notes amusing. I guess if somebody actually bought a wine based on this rather manipulated tasting note though I would be pretty cross.

A note from an online retailer on the Domaine la Motte Chablis Premier Cru Beauroy 2006:

“Good golden fruit, good substance too, the fruit buoyed up on the palate by all that oak as well. A nice midpalate texture, attractive, a touch honeyed, and a nicely defined finish….a good wine.’ 16+/20 – Chris Kissack, Wine Doctor

My original note:

Domaine la Motte Chablis Premier Cru Beauroy 2006: A marked oak influence on the nose here, grainy and sweet. It is admittedly quite appealing – as new oak often is in tastings – but it isn’t what I come to Chablis for, and I would quickly tire of this if drinking at home. Good golden fruit, good substance too, the fruit buoyed up on the palate by all that oak as well. A nice midpalate texture, attractive, a touch honeyed, and a nicely defined finish. Actually a good wine, but you need to be (a) oak tolerant, and (b) able to pretend you are drinking a Côte de Beaune substitute rather than a Chablis. 16+/20″

At least they are using the note for the right vintage.

Lafite: not bursting (yet)

I was amused by this article recently – an economist with a good track record but clearly no knowledge of wine is the latest (because it has been said before) to call time on the Lafite price run. His blog article is here:

Andy Xie says “sell Lafite now”

There are too many inaccuracies and slip-ups in this article for me to address now; it’s late and I have things on tomorrow, a newsletter to write, next week’s updates to write (and a job to go to – nearly forgot about that). But I can’t resist drawing your attention to this statement by Xie as it indicates his grasp on the fine wine market – “One very big mushroom [a local term for people who become rich overnight] flew in Lafite in oak casks for a dinner.” This is of course absolute twaddle. The days of first growths being carted around the world in barrel are long gone. Chateau-bottling has been the norm since the early 20th century. Come on Andy, do your research.

Economists and commentators like to call time on phenomena, to be the one who ‘nailed it’ or ‘called it’. It’s why some punters scrabble around on Parker’s board electronically shouting their opinions about the latest Bordeaux vintage, usually posting time after time on release dates and prices. They think it gives them credence to be the first, to have their ‘finger on the pulse’. In my opinion it usually just means they have a good contact and too much internet time on their hands.

Eventually the Lafite bubble may burst (although that’s not a certainty IMO), and when it does anyone who suggested it would in the preceding few months will no doubt puff out their chest, proud of their predictive abilities. But I suspect they will just be lucky. This time, Andy Xie will be unlucky I think, because he just doesn’t understand the wine market – it’s not the same as the dot.com bubble and the trade in gold that he likens it to. Not all wine buyers are investors Andy, and note that wine buyers aren’t the same as stock traders. There are different motivations with wine buying. Especially with the Chinese, perhaps.

Here’s a quote from Jim Boyce, a Canadian residing in Beijing and the author of the Grape Wall of China blog, which he posted on Twitter (I picked this up from Dr Vino’s site):

“exhausted after 3 bottles of Lafite but that’s a typical Beijing night”

And Andy Xie thinks the bubble is about to burst?!

Bouvet-Ladubay; getting used to email?

A few days ago I emailed a contact at Bouvet-Ladubay to clarify a fact regarding one of their wines. It wasn’t somebody I had ever sent an email to before.

A couple of days later I received a reply, from that address, entitled “TEST”. The body of the message was completely blank. I figured maybe the respondent was struggling to get their email account working, and rather than reply thought I would wait a day or two to give them a chance.

After two days of silence I sent a polite reply to confirm I had received the test message, and that I looked forward to the responses to my questions. Within a few hours a response came – a completely blank reply, entitled Re:TEST.

Maybe it’s an auto-responder?

It looks like I might have a while to wait before I get any joy on this one!

100 Points or 20 points?

At a recent tasting a friendly MW sidles up to me and enquired as to when I was going to stop this nonsense of scoring wines out of 20. “100 points is the only way to score wine these days”, said this advocate of the 100-point system. His argument that I should change was based on the following:

1. He doesn’t know what 16, 17 or any other number out of 20 means. But 91 or 94 or 97, and so on – they mean something.
2. If I score a wine 94, and he agrees it’s a 94, then he knows I am worth reading. If I score it differently, then he knows I’m talking crap (actually he used a different adjective, but I’ve toned it down to merely ‘crap’).
3. Using 100 points increases your use to the trade, so you get quoted more, so people learn who you are, your reputation builds, hence more readers and so on. My MW friend recently persuaded another MW to score Bordeaux 2009 out of 100 points, a new direction for that critic. They were suddenly widely quoted (by the British trade, anyway).
4. That’s because the trade likes 100 points, apparently. He told me Farr’s only use notes from those that score out of 100 (see below for my response regarding Jancis).
5. People like 100 points. People don’t like 20 points. Everybody scores out of 100 these days. Get with the times!

To be honest, I was lost for words. I didn’t formulate much of a counter-argument, but did make a few whimpering protestations, along the lines of:

- I think Winedoctor readers are smart enough to know how the 20 point system works. 20 is perfection. 17 is really good. 14 is just OK. 11 is….you get the picture.
- The idea that my score on a wine would have to match his for my palate/opinions to be of any value implies (1) point scores are an intrinsic quality of the wine and/or (2) he believes in the universal palate. I thought only Parker & Suckling believed that sort of stuff.
- The trade? Do they really only like 100 points? Farr’s quote Jancis who scores out of 20, I argued. “They would rather drop her because of that”, came the reply, “but she is still influential so they carry on with her”. I suddenly felt out on a limb. On reflection, I’m not. Look at the World of Fine Wine, La Revue du Vin de France (RVF), Decanter, Michel Bettane and Gault Millau as well as Jancis. All scoring out of 20. I just hope none of them retire/fold in the immediate future!
- the 100-point system is actually at best a 15-point (85-100) system. The 20-point system as I use it is actually a 16-point system (12-20 with half-points). People rarely score wines in the low 80s (even if they use 80-100 the subtlety of the system isn’t that much different, 20 instead of 15), I rarely score wines less than 12 (although I know there are examples of both 10 from me, and 65-ish from 100-point fans). What’s the problem? They’re both pretty straightforward. It’s the note that counts anyway, isn’t it?

“Not to the trade”, was his reply.

Of course I’ve long realised I’m not writing for the trade. I’ve nothing against the 100 point system, I think points are useful in conveying the fact that you liked one wine more than another. It’s just that I don’t really believe that one system is better than the other. And I’m loathe to change.

Especially if I have to finish every note with something like “I’m 93 points on that”, à la Suckling.

Suckling’s Videos

I was beginning to come around to the idea that Suckling’s videos were fabulous jokes, self-aware parody with a new, enlightening and as yet unrevealed message/direction, based on the repeated contradictions:

- in his first video, he stated he would seek out undiscovered wines, before then showing clip after clip of him in world-famous vineyards in Bordeaux, Tuscany and Napa.

- in his second video, he claims perfection is probably not attainable, before then going on to show clips of him awarding points to wine, eventually reaching 100 points on several different occasions.

But if you look at his youtube channel you can see that he has revised video #1, removing the “search for undiscovered gems” intro, suggesting to me that he wasn’t even aware of the comical contradiction. Hmm….

Of course, it’s all great publicity for his new site, which I’ve just contributed to. I feel so used!

If you do go to view Suckling’s videos, be sure to watch the “Searching For Perfection with Synthesizer background” version. The sound effects are very reminiscent to the half-buzz half-whine that you would hear in old Flash Gordon films. It only needs one of Ming the Merciless’ space cruisers, bright red, with a pointed spike on the nose of the ship, to come crashing through the wall behind suckling as the noise reaches a crescendo, to complete the picture. Surely it would be pretty easy to splice that in?

Wine Investment: "What do you think?"

A recently received email:

Firstly, can I say how impressed I am with the amount of detail and effort that has gone into the Wine Doctor website. It’s an invaluable resource. I’m planning to invest about £2,000 in some to quality Bordeaux wines. I’ve done a lot of research and I was wondering which 3/4 chateaux you would recommend. I like the look of Montrose, Palmer and Margaux. What do you think?

That’s it – I’ve just removed the name of the sender, no more. I left it a few weeks as I have no interest in giving out free wine investment advice (for a variety of reasons), but then rediscovered the email when doing a little electronic filing, and sent this reply:

Reading your question, I think you need to spend a lot more time considering your plan, and ask yourself a few more questions. For instance:

- where are you going to find cases of the chateaux you mentioned for less than £2000?
- who is going to sell you Margaux, no strings attached?
- where are you going to keep these wines – do you have a bonded account?
- what are the storage charges?
- which vintages are you looking at?
- where is the wine market now – is there room for continued growth, or is it a bubble?
- is your plan quick return or long-term gain?
- what is the planned return?
- have you factored in storage costs?
- what does Parker say about the wines? Is there room for upscoring?
- is the quality of the vintage considered sufficient to make upscoring likely?
- is it a recent vintage Parker may have “over-scored”? This makes downscoring rather likely.

Unless you have answers to all of these questions now, I would steer clear of trying your hand at wine investment.

What is up for debate though is perhaps not my reply (although feel free to comment) but the question in the first place. I have seen it written that a sign of a bubble market is when “the man on the street” (the “cab-driver” is an alternative source) starts talking about investing. Is this a sign of a Bordeaux bubble? If it is, does it mean the bubble will burst soon?

A trip into the past…

…with East Coast Trains.

Currently en route to London for several tastings, and was surprised to see that East Coast Trains have introduced a charge for their onboard wi-fi, previously free. You get 15 minutes free, and thereafter it is £4.95 per 30 minutes (extortionate!) or £9.95 per 24 hours (also extortionate!). It remains free to first class travellers of course, who have of course already paid enough!

What a bad move by East Coast Trains; apart from environmental concerns (which are obviously very important) there are few advantages to travelling by train. For me, the opportunity to work with unfettered internet access is one. I can continue doing that today, the connection provided not by East Coast Trains but by mobile technology from O2 – a service which only costs £2 for 24 hours. But if I’m sorting out my own internet connection, I could do that anywhere…such as in an airport, or on the Express trains between London and Stansted/Gatwick. And flying to London is both cheaper and quicker than taking the train.

Train companies have to work hard to maintain a grip on market share – areas in which they can gain an advantage are convenience and good service. Both of these encourage me to pay more to travel by train than by air, and both have just been lessened by East Coast Trains’ decision to charge. A backwards step which means I’ll be looking at air fares more closely next time I travel.

International Grenache Day

I don’t intend turning the Winedr blog – intended purely to complement Winedoctor proper – into a disciple of the PR machine, but this press release concerning the International Grenache Day was of interest for an obscure reason:

International Grenache Day Launches
Friday 24 September 2010
A day to celebrate Grenache with wine events around the world

3 September, 2010 – London — The diversity of Grenache will be on display as restaurants, wine associations, wine merchants and producers, and fans of great wine around the world celebrate the many complexities and virtues of the world’s most widely planted red grape on International Grenache Day (IGD) – Friday 24 September 2010.

The idea for this day-long event originated at the First International Grenache Symposium in June in the Southern Rhone. Over 250 top Grenache producers, journalists, and retailers from 23 countries pledged to demand that their local restaurants, retailers, friends and acquaintances make September 24th the day to celebrate Grenache each year. An international association was created to help promote “the grape you know, you just don’t know it”.

A Grenache “Primer” is being distributed as part of a viral email campaign to help train and educate restaurateurs, retailers, sommeliers, kitchen staff, and servers alike in the diverse styles of Grenache and their ideal serving and pairing options – all in an effort to inspire menus, tastings and by-the-glass or other promotions for IGD on 24 September.

Confirmed events will be taking place in the USA, UK, Spain, Australia, India, Brazil, China and Nigeria ranging from tastings to menu-pairings at restaurants; many Grenache enthusiasts will simply host dinner parties at their homes in celebration!

Grenache is a remarkable grape due to its broad appeal and versatility. From white to rosé to sweet fortified wines, as light varietal reds or complex blends, it has historically and most famously hidden in blends from regions like Chateauneuf-du-Pape and Priorat – making great wines greater but lacking the “brand recognition” of varietals such as Chardonnay or Pinot Noir.

Grenache remains mostly under-acknowledged in the world of wine — however, the potential for Grenache’s popularity is huge: with its juicy, luscious fruit, warm spice, balanced acidity and supple tannins. An aim of IGD is to create a wave of familiarity and interest so that one day people will walk into their favourite bar or restaurant and ask for a ‘Glass of Grenache’ as they do currently with Pinot Grigio or Merlot.

Grenache is a brilliant gastronomic wine, capable of being paired with virtually any dish (in any season and any climate), due to its broad spectrum of winemaking expressions – truly “the perfect partner.”

Adding a dash of fun to the day, the Australian delegates to the International Grenache Symposium, suggested that loud and colourful shirts be worn on IGD by restaurant/retail staff, attendees and wine makers to further amplify the event. Grenache Day activities around the world will be profiled with successful promotion ideas, sample menus, and triumphant food pairings on http://www.grenachesymposium.com/GrenacheNews/

This called to mind a comment made by Jacqueline Friedrich on her website – taking offence at Tim Atkin’s comments in the June 11, 2010 edition of Off-License News. His subject was what he called “the first ever conference dedicated to Grenache”, to which Jacqueline replies “Really?” As it happens Jacqueline recalls writing about “Les Journées de Grenache”, an international Grenache-themed meeting sponsored by Slow Food and held in Perpignan – back in 2001. More of a contender for the “first” crown, methinks!

I think Jacqueline has a very valid point here. Perhaps “First International Grenache Symposium” isn’t such an appropriate title after all? Although I suppose it has more caché than “Another International Grenache Symposium”.

Big News – Cellar Tracker Integration!

Cellar Tracker users may well already be aware, but yesterday Eric LeVine announced partnerships with four new ‘content channels’ – the provision of tasting notes from wine professionals within Cellar Tracker – one of which is none other than my humble self. It’s an absolute delight to team up with Eric and Cellar Tracker in this way, as I find CT an excellent and very powerful tool – I’ve been using to to keep track of my stock for many years now.

CT users who wish to do so can now see my notes with their wine inventory, so hopefully increasing the usefulness of all this tasting work I do! Also, I now see all my own scores and tasting notes next to my wines in my cellar; I have to admit that seems a little weird, as if I am talking to myself, although it’s no different from having all my notes online on Winedoctor of course.

To read more see Eric’s latest newsletter.

To get started with Cellar Tracker if you aren’t already using it, visit the CT homepage.